The Who prove they aren’t going gently
“When we sound-checked, the Grand Prix was going on and all we could hear was helicopters,” the guitarist Pete Townshend, 69, told the crowd from the stage. “Does it sound OK?”
“What would they know? They’ve been listening to cars for three days,” said the singer Roger Daltrey, 70.
The two surviving members of The Who may not exactly be known for seeing eye to eye, but there was easy camaraderie on display as they kicked off an 18-month tour that they have already signalled will be their last.
Symbolically starting with their first single, 1964’s I Can’t Explain, the band raced through perky renditions of most of the hits from their singles songbook. Substitute, The Kids are Alright, I Can See for Miles and Magic Bus all sounded fresh, their 60s pop sensibilities competing with trademark segments of sonic weirdness.
“We’re warming up – as you do in Abu Dhabi,” said Daltrey, after four songs, his shirt already transparent with perspiration.
Throughout the show, arty images of The Who’s heyday swirled on the big screens behind them, reminding us of the band’s legacy but also how little they now resemble their trailblazing, iconic former selves.
The highlights came mid-set with the first and last tracks from 1971’s classic Who’s Next: Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again, Townshend’s seismic guitar stabs and Daltrey’s angst still having the power to thrill.
This wasn’t a perfect performance. There were missed cues and shaky moments. One feels for Daltrey – his vocals are easy to scrutinise, while a fluffed note from Townshend easily goes unnoticed amid his relentless guitar-work.
The second half of the set featured extended selections from their two groundbreaking concept albums, Tommy and Quadrophenia, the former’s anthemic Pinball Wizard and See Me, Feel Me wrapping up the set. “Do we go off now?” asked Daltrey, cueing a band debate about whether to skip the encore formalities and just stay on stage.
They went with option two, launching into 5:15, which included a video clip of a staggeringly good bass solo from the late, great John Entwistle. A similar tribute was then paid to Keith Moon, with a hilarious video of his Bell Boy monologue.
The set ended with the epic Love, Reign o’er Me. A rip-roaring rendition of The Real Me just might have been a spontaneous encore, as Townshend’s guitars were already packed away.
Leaving the stage for the last time, Daltrey knocked over his mic stand – and then ran back and mock-jumped on it, wearing a mighty grin. This touchingly good-natured moment was a telling contrast to the ritual destruction of The Who’s youth.
Updated: November 24, 2014 04:00 AM